Once upon a time, Tito Ortiz was one of the most feared men competing in the sport of mixed martial arts. His aggressive wrestling and devastating ground-and-pound made him a man to fear and an incredibly tough out for anyone looking to get their hands on UFC gold.
The same can be said of Chuck Liddell, although he utilized his wrestling prowess in the opposite manner, opting to use his wrestling as a defensive tool in order to keep combat vertical, where he found extreme measures of success thanks to two sledgehammers that most recognize as fists.
As for Wanderlei Silva, well, he was never the division’s finest wrestler. What he was, was a terrifying monster inside the ring who favored ugly, fast-paced slugfests over technically measured executions. It worked quite well for him, as he managed to put numerous foes to sleep with fists, feet and knees inside the Pride Fighting Championship ring.
Now years distanced from each man’s prime fighting form, discussions often travel back to yesteryear's greats. Who was the greatest light heavyweight of MMA’s first dedicated wave of fighters?
Even being completely objective, it’s difficult to answer that question. Each man amassed major accolades during their dominant streaks, each man fought very different fights and each man ran into a few brick walls along the way.
Not a single one of the three were perfect fighters, and there’s little doubt that none could compete with the likes of today’s stars.
As amazing as Liddell’s overhand right was, the chances that he could land that punch on a guy like Lyoto Machida or Jon Jones seem remarkably slim.
The same can be said of Silva, whose size alone would all but ensure nightmarish outcomes were he to tangle with the current monsters of the division.
As for Ortiz, well, MMA-executed wrestling has evolved too much to consider him a relevant threat in the takedown department. That bull-rush tactic probably doesn’t yield much success against the elite nowadays, and his ability to deliver punishment from within the guard is a puzzle that was solved years ago.
There’s nothing wrong with admitting that these men are far past top fighting form (Ortiz and Liddell have already retired), as it’s a simple fact that cannot be denied. History has already shown us that these three aren’t fit to compete with the division’s elite anymore. And that’s alright. All three enjoyed highly successful careers, and each has staked rightful claim to Hall of Fame induction and idol status.
But who was the true great of their time?
Let’s take a look at their careers, during their most dominant days, and see if we can’t find some semblance of a legitimate answer.